FAO Regional Office for Africa

Social protection has a key role to play in COVID-19 response

Cultivate Africa drives dialogue on building back better

© FAO

20 November 2020 – Social protection must be seen as an investment in communities’ resilience. That was one of the key messages coming out of Cultivate Africa, a two-day online event (17-18 November) on COVID-19 response and recovery in Africa organized by the African Union Commission and attended by more than 1400 participants.

"Making agri-food systems sustainable, resilient and inclusive, where healthy diets are accessible and affordable for all, is paramount to building back better from COVID-19," FAO’s Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo told the opening plenary.  

FAO led the organization of two sessions on social protection, focusing on the importance of shock-responsive social protection in protecting livelihoods and the role of social protection in building back better from COVID-19 and beyond.

During the first session, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa Abebe Haile-Gabriel highlighted the importance of strengthening integrated and shock-responsive social protection systems to ensure timely response to crises that also support longer term resilience. In this regard, he highlighted the vital role of partnerships across sectors to facilitate pathways for the poor to engage in productive activities. In parallel, he noted that adequate investments in building robust systems are critical to ensuring systems are both flexible and brought to scale to adequately support response measures in crises. This would support sustainable livelihoods towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Pamela Pozarny, Senior Rural Sociologist at FAO’s  Regional Office for Africa facilitated a lively discussion with a three-member panel, representing government, NGOs, and development partners. Panel members shared how they leveraged existing social programmes to respond to COVID-19, the challenges they faced, and their lessons learned.

Ahmed Ibrahim Abdi, CEO of Arid Lands Development Focus (ALDEF) & Convener-ASAL Humanitarian Network for Local Actors in Kenya, stressed the central role of producer organizations in facilitating the access of small-scale producers to social protection measures and packages, keeping local communities informed of the government response and also of health measures imposed.

Linton Mchunu, Director General of the Department of Social Development of South Africa, spoke about his government’s new hybrid COVID-19 relief programme targeting 6.5 million people. The programme built on the infrastructure and footprint of the national Social Security Agency (SASA) of South Africa. He also underlined the importance of a diversified package of interventions that can be delivered effectively given a strong information system.

Magdalena Moshi, Deputy Director of the World Food Programme’s African Union Liaison Office in Addis Ababa, explained that WFP’s priorities have been to sustain life-saving assistance and to expand to reach more groups on the verge of acute food insecurity as a result of COVID-19 impacts.

The second session highlighted the importance of a rights-based approach to social protection. In his keynote address, Dr. Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (OHCHR), opened his remarks by asserting that “COVID provides a unique opportunity to rethink the role of social protection and to ensure that it becomes a permanent feature of reconstruction for better resilience in the future.”

While some 1,400 measures had been adopted for a total amount of about USD 590 billion, he noted that this is a small fraction for investment in economic recovery, resulting in inadequate support and exclusion of benefits to many, including informal workers, migrants, indigenous people and other groups.

To tackle these challenges, Dr. De Schutter said social protection must be grounded in human rights, adding that governments are duty bearers obliged to provide social protection to their people, and that social protection should be seen as an entitlement and an investment. He also noted that universal social protection should be a precondition and integral ingredient to development processes, and should be participatory, involving the poor.

In his response remarks, Benito Eliasi, Programme Officer, Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), highlighted the role of farmers’ organizations in COVID response in promoting greater consultation with farmers to ensure that programmes meet the needs of this critical, and often vulnerable, population.

Further rich insights were provided by a panel of experts including Celine Peyron Bista, Chief Technical Advisor of the EC DEVCO, ILO; John Kabayo, Regional Drought Disaster Resilience & Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI) Platform Coordinator, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); Richard Obiga, Senior Programme Officer, National Social Protection Secretariat of Kenya; Stephen Muchiri, East Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF); and Omar Benammour, Social Protection Specialist, FAO Rome.

Panelists emphasized that social protection should be placed at the centre of national development and resilience agendas. It was also highlighted that social protection can contribute to making the food system more resilient and inclusive, and that it is important to build synergies between social protection measures and agri-food system interventions for inclusive recovery. Building on Dr. De Schutter’s views, it was highlighted that social protection is an investment to address inequalities, and affordable for developing countries, and that these measures must link to building resilience to facilitate greater community self-reliance. This includes overcoming vulnerabilities and ensuring food security and healthy diets on a sustainable basis.

Cultivate Africa also featured a side event organized by FAO’s Subregional Office for East Africa, entitled Partnership for Climate Resilience in the Horn of Africa. The session showcased a model of partnership between the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and FAO that bridges the gap between climate science and adaptation practices among small farmers in the Horn of Africa. Through a range of triangulated field activities, the partnership has resulted in climate-informed local adaptation that contributes to local communities’ resilience.

The next steps for Cultivate Africa’s social protection track is to consolidate and communicate its clear messages with a view to informing new partnerships, joint collaborations and investments aligned with the African Union’s Joint Ministerial Declaration and Action Agenda on COVID-19 response (July 2020).

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